May 3 2013

Displaced from the land in Syria

03/05/2013 – In a cramped school building, mattresses, blankets and bags of personal belongings are stacked in heaps against the walls. Near the entrance a woman who was always self-sufficient in home-grown fruit, vegetables and meat, stretches out her hand to receive dried food from 16 year-old Ghaith. The SOS youth reflects the strong solidarity that exists in Syria. The grateful woman feels weak, as she ponders her children’s future. They have been displaced from their home, their family, and the land that sustained them.


What of the children
What of the children's future? In the past, toil and resilience brought Asma'a through tough times, this is different  © SOS Archives
Accepting charity is something that is especially difficult for farmers like Asma’a. “It brings shame on the family” she says. For generations, farm families like hers living near Damascus took pride in the quality of the, wheat, citrus fruits, grapes and vegetables they produced. Until recent times, eight million Syrians derived their income from agriculture. Living in a patriarchal society, Asma’a was among the three quarters who were uneducated landless tenant farmers. The conflict has forced many like her to flee the countryside.


“We lived day-to-day,” says the 30-year-old mother of five. “It was tough, but it was a decent life in many ways.” Without access to modern irrigation, the farm was reliant on rainfall. When the rains failed, they suffered. A combination of toil, resilience and the support of a strong family network carried them through lean times in the past. This is different.


With empathy SOS Children
Accepting charity is difficult for people who poor but proud of their produce @SOS Archives


Averting family malnutrition

Choosing between survival and dignity is the stark choice faced by 4.8million people who now find themselves displaced in Syria, or seeking refuge elsewhere. To avert malnutrition they are forced to swallow their pride as the land that made Syria one of the world’s major exporters of olives lies fallow.

With her one-year-old in her arms Asma’a recalls they day they left their home. “The fighting was so intense in our small village.  Every day I was afraid I would wake up to find my house on fire. I was always expecting to receive bad news; that something had happened to my husband. So we decided to come to Damascus, seeking peace. My husband is now working as mini bus driver, he leaves early morning and comes back late in the evening. Most of what he earns pays for the rent.

I never went so school. Now that we are in the city I can’t work to support my husband. All I can do is to go from one charity to another collecting aid. I don’t want this future for my children. They deserve the chance to continue their education and have a brighter future than mine.” Pointing to her nine-year-old daughter, Asma’a says with a steely determination, “I will do all what I can so that she stays at school, I don’t want her to be like me”.


SOS Youths have show solidarity with less fortunate families in Syria © SOS Archives
SOS Youths empathise and demonstrate solidarity with the displaced © SOS Archives
With a welcoming smile Ghaith continues to hand out bags of lentils, rice and canned meat to others like Asma’a. The young man is one of three SOS youths who have lent their support to the efforts of the community. “I volunteered many times with the Red Crescent to distribute food to displaced people living in schools,” he says with pride. The boys’ upbringing in the nearby SOS Children’s Village taught them to empathise with people. They are aware that others their age are forced to become child soldiers, while young girls are forced into marriage and sexual exploitation.


“Sometimes we feel different from other children at school. We live in an SOS village we feel lucky. After seeing all these children displaced, with nowhere to go, I am happy to help and I want to contribute more,” said Ghaith. In 32 degrees of heat, displaced Syria’s find themselves foraging for food aid in school buildings where the only thing that grows, is their desire to return to the land.